Friday, April 27, 2007

Jason Grizzanti of Warkwick Valley Winery and Distillery

(Profile No. 1 in the Young Turks series)

There is no hiding my admiration for Warwick Valley Winery and Distillery. From their Cabernet Franc and Black Dirt Red to their great ciders and now unique distilled products, who can fault me? you've seen my reviews of their wines over the years. But who is the winemaker there?

It’s Jason Grizzanti. I recently had the pleasure of meeting him at the HVWGA Awards.. Warwick’s cider is one of the great ciders of North America, which I guess makes Jason Grizzanti one of the best cider makers in North America. That’s pretty big praise for someone who graduated from Cornell in 2000. But Jason just didn’t step into it. It’s actually been a long road to his recent successes. Aside from numerous awards, Warwick Valley is now distributed in seven states.

Jason and girlfriend, Erika Duncalfe.

“I started out making beer in high school. I made a stout. It came out OK,” said the native of Montclair. “My first wine was an apple cider. In retrospect, I had no idea what I was doing. I had worked [at Warwick Valley Winery] with the previous wine people. But the old crowd was gone by the time I got back from school. It was horrible,” Jason now admits.

“Luckily enough, my father had a friend, a retired bio chemist from the pharmaceutical industry. He gave me some suggestions, and my next batch came out much better. He was a great guy.”

“I went to cider school in England, at Pershore College. It was probably the best thing I did. I got to talk to a lot of great cider people, and learned more about cider in a broader, larger sense”

How did he originally get interested in wine and cider making. “I don't even know how it happened. The eternal search for alcohol in high school and college was probably the beginning. When I went to Cornell, I had a really great professor who was into cider. At that time, Cornell didn't have a winemaking program so his enthusiasm for cider rubbed off.” While at Cornell Jason went to Michigan State to search for more information. “I went to Michigan for a short week course to see their still, while at Cornell. It was at that early moment, during his junior year, that the bug really took hold, especially for distilling. “A bunch of Michigan wineries were getting stills. I wanted to do it too, but I didn't know how. Then the RFP from Grow New York arrived.”

Just after I graduated from college I got a RFP [Request for Proposal] for a grant from "Grow New York State," which was part of the department of Agriculture and Markets. “We wanted to be the first fruit micro-distillery. We wanted to make ciders. brandies. cordials. calvados. That was my thing.”

“We got a got a matching grant from the state for $50,000. We got our still from Germany. It came in 2001 or 2002. I started playing with it as soon as I got my license.”

“I distilled everything. I distilled water, raspberries, apples, pears, peaches, I stuck with apples and pears now. Recently we’ve done cherries and currants. Everything we make with our still is an eau de vie, or fruit brandy. These are the backbone of our cordials and our port.”

Harlequin port is named after Jason’s 8-year Harlequin Great Dane, named Winston. He got Winston when he was 21, and just Finishing college.

“Before the distillery, I was making port. I had been doing that for eight years,. We used to buy neutral spirits, but now we exclusively use our own, which we make ourselves.”

But Jason is a restless soul, constantly driven to try new things. He’s an experimenter, a tinkered. “We're coming out with our new liquor, a pear liquor. It's probably going to be available at the end of April, or thereabouts. We're always experimenting with new ciders.”

And the thirst for knowledge never diminishes. He's also been working on a master's degree from Heriot-Watt University, Scotland, in brewing and distilling. “I've done a lot with brewing, even though we don't make beer. There's not a lot of cider info out there, and tere is some cross over between brewing and cider making.”

Warwick's cider style is much more in keeping with the British style. I asked him if he was interested in making a French-style cider as well. “We may in the future add another more traditional French style. “The British style has much more mass taste appeal then the French. I’m not sure the American palate is ready for a full, French farmhouse styled cider...but I could be wrong,” he said with a chuckle.

“We're experimenting with strawberries, mint, in 50 and 100 gallon batches. If it comes out well, we can bottle it...and if not,” he chuckles.

“To be honest, I thought the cherry cordial was going to be a bust. It had a lot of off notes when we put it off to the side in a 55 gallon drum. Six months later it had become this cherry/cinnamon flavored beverage.” They bottled it immediately.

The winery is currently owned by Jason and Jeremy Kidde along with Jason's father Joseph. “Jeremy and I were friends since middle school. We went to high school in Montclair. Jeremy went to Colby College where he majored in finance and economics. We always wanted to market hard cider together but making that decision out of college was a difficult. We both were going to try more traditional career paths. Jeremy moved to San Francisco to work for Credit Suisse/First Boston as an investment advisor. I toyed with the idea of going to law school but decided that the winery and farm were really what I wanted to do. Two years later Jeremy wanted to come back to east coast.”

Jeff and Jason (mugging) at the winery.

Jason said, “Why don't we do the cider thing? And he said, ‘Great,’ and now we run and co-own the winery together. I make the product and he sells it.”

Joe Grizzanti is the founder and is responsible for the orchard. Jason runs the music
bookings. Warwick Valley has live music every weekend and large music festival regularly throughout the year. They also have a restaurant and cafe run by Katherine Grizzanti, Joe’s wife, who is a CIA graduate in her own right. And the things there are wonderful. So it really is a family affair. But it all comes back to the wine, cider and spirits.

Jason Grizzanti is still experimenting. And it’s that wonderful for all of us!

Young Turks of East Coast Wine

On the east coast there are a series of new, young winemakers who are making an immediate impact on the winemaking scene. They are pressing the traditionl boundries of how east coast wineries are percieved, and what they produce. They can be found throughout the eastern seaboard. In a series up up-comming interviews, you can see who they are, what they are making and how they are changing the face of east coast wines.

Friday, April 13, 2007

London Calling....Virginia!

The Virginia Wine Experience in London Selects 64 Virginia Wines to Showcase at Historic Wine Tasting in May 2007London media and wine trade members set to taste, experience unique versatility and variety of Virginia wines

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — February 21, 2007 — The Virginia Wine Experience in London, LLC, today announced the results of its qualifying round to determine which wines will represent Virginia at a historic May 2007 wine tasting in London, England. After tasting more than 88 wines from 33 Virginia wineries, the qualifying wines to be presented at the London wine tasting represent a diverse range from sparkling wines and meritage blends to the native Norton grape. A complete list of the Virginia wines can be found at wineries on the website.
"We are pleased to be taking 64 high-quality wines to pour for media and trade members in London. They truly represent the best quality in today’s Virginia wines," said Richard Leahy, executive director of the Virginia Wine Experience in London, LLC.

The one-day qualifying round took place at White Hall Vineyards and featured a panel of ten wine experts tasting the full range of Virginia wines from vintage sparkling to dessert styles. The selected wines will be introduced to an exclusive audience of media and wine trade members at the renowned Vinopolis wine tasting venue in London on May 2nd, 2007, and presented as worthy of comparison to fine wines from any region on the world stage.
The theme at the Virginia Wine Experience in London will be “Virginia, First in Wine” – a reference to both the history and quality of Virginia’s wine. “Since this is the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement, now is an excellent time to highlight the fact that Virginia was the first place in North America where English settlers deliberately set out to produce wine,” noted Leahy. “We believe Londoners will appreciate the historical significance of our theme, and it’s a tremendous opportunity to showcase recent progress in the Virginia wine industry.”

Virginia is both literally and stylistically between California and Europe. Due to its favorable Mid-Atlantic location – between North and South – Virginia wines represent both New World and Old World wine making styles. Leahy noted further that Virginia’s climate produces the most versatile range of fine wines in the Eastern United States.
Leahy points out that Virginia is on the cutting edge of the regional wine industry, with a national reputation for Viognier and with major awards in national and international competitions. "Our recent fine 2002 and 2005 vintages demonstrate just how far we’ve come, and we're looking forward to showing the British that their dream of establishing a world-class wine industry in Virginia has finally been realized,” said Leahy.
Virginia is known to produce a good wine for any palate. Varieties worthy of note include Chardonnay, fine red Bordeaux blends, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot (two of the red Bordeaux varieties), Viognier (a white grape from the Rhone that many believe performs better in Virginia than anywhere else in the country), specialty varieties, such as Petit Manseng, and Virginia’s own native Norton grape.
A complete list of judges, participating wineries and the wines selected for presentation at the London event, in addition to photos from the qualifying event and more information about the The Virginia Wine Experience in London can be found at wineries.
About the Virginia Wine Experience in London
The Virginia Wine Experience in London, LLC, was formed by six Virginia wineries (Keswick Vineyards, Kluge Estate Vineyard & Winery, Pearmund Cellars, White Hall Vineyards, Williamsburg Winery, and Veritas Winery), and is generously sponsored by the Farm Credit of Virginia and by Summer on The Lawn: The 1st Wine Seminar, Virginia's Wine Legacy: From Jefferson to the Present, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, June 13-17, 2007, and by TRAVEL&LEARN PROGRAMS FOR ADULTS...School of Continuing and Professional Studies, University of Virginia. WE OFFER YOU A WORLD OF IDEAS; Historic Settings - Special Tours - Intellectual Engagement Expert Faculty and Interesting Company From Around The Nation and Around The World andby Americas Cup of Polo.
Richard Leahy, the Executive Director, has written as a journalist on Virginia wine for 20 years, including acting as Mid-Atlantic and South Editor for the Oxford Companion to the Wines of North America, and he is currently the East Coast Editor for the trade magazine Vineyard & Winery Management.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Cream Ridge Cranberry Wine

Tom Amabile was one of the most accessible winemakers when I first started getting interested in locally made wines. Even though he had no idea of the trajectory of my involvement, he was always happy to answer any question I had as a wine lover. He has done this for everyone, and is one of the reasons that local wine has made it in New Jersey. I first discovered the winery after I graduated college. To this day, Tom doesn't know who I am, but he's always been friendly and eager to talk wine any time I've gone in.

"I consider my job, what I do, like a chef,” says Amabile. “I try to get the best fruit possible to make the best wine possible.”
Cream Ridge Winery opened in 1988. They produce premium award winning wines, including our specialty fruit wines. In 2005 they received the NJ Governors Cup for their Cherry Wine(Ciliegia Amabile). For six years they have attained the distinction of winning the NJ Governor's Cup, which is the highest rated wine in the state. They won the Governor's cup four times for the Cherry wine, one time for the cranberry and one for the plum. This year they received 14 awards at the NJ wine competition including five gold medals which are: Cherry wine(Ciliegia Amabile), Walnford White, May Wine, Almondberry Wine and Plum Wine.

This Easter we enjoyed his Cranberry fruit wine. It was the perfect sipping wine after the ham and lamb and potatoes were put away. Sweet without being cloying, and not syrup-y either. It was like drinking a nice, big bowl of fresh fruit. It was a nice way to end the hectic hustle and bustle of the holiday weekend. A surprise choice, and one roundly applauded. And it was a nice way to remember one of the first wineries I ever went to - and one of the nicest winemakers I have ever known.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

2007 Maryland Wine Festivals

One of the best kept secrets of these major wine festivals is how much time and energy they save you. Just think of having to drive from Deep Creek Lake in far-western Maryland to the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland to visit every winery. The festivals bring Maryland’s finest wines to your backyard, saving you a couple tanks of rather expensive gas. And since many of the wineries offer special festival pricing, you can use that saved cash to take home a few bottles of your new favorite wines.

MAY – Wine in the Woods
Wine in the WoodsMay 19 & 20, 200712 - 6pmSymphony WoodsColumbia, Howard County
Enjoy samples from all of Maryland's wineries, gourmet foods from more than 15 local restaurants, live music, wine seminars, and arts and craft vendors. Admission includes souvenir wine glass and wine samples.Tickets are available online at or by calling 410-313-7275.

JUNE – Great Grapes! Wine, Arts and Food Festival
Great Grapes! Wine, Arts and Food FestivalJune 9 & 10, 200712 - 6 pmOregon Ridge ParkCockeysville, Maryland
Celebrate Maryland wine with tastings from the wineries, culinary favorites from local restaurants and caterers, handmade crafts, and live jazz, blues and oldies music on two stages. Admission includes souvenir wine glass and ten tastings.
Tickets are available online at or by calling 800-830-3976.

SEPTEMBER – The Maryland Wine Festival
The Maryland Wine FestivalSeptember 15 & 16, 2007Sat 10-6pm, Sun 12-6pmCarroll County Farm MuseumWestminster, Carroll County
See all the details of the State's oldest and largest wine festival at PLUS! – get in gear for the Maryland Wine Festival Asthma Bike Tour and 5K Run! Details at

OCTOBER – Riverside Wine Fest at Sotterley
Riverside Wine Fest at SotterleyOctober 6 & 7, 200712-6pmSotterley PlantationHollywood, St. Mary's County

OCTOBER – Autumn Wine Festival
Autumn Wine FestivalOctober 20 & 21, 2007Pemberton Historical ParkSalisbury, Maryland
The event will feature wines from nearly a dozen Maryland Wineries, as well as local cuisine, juried arts & fine crafts and live entertainment. More information is available at or by calling the Visitor's Bureau at (410) 548-4914 or (800) 332-TOUR.

Three Maryland Winemakers

Here are three notable winemakers from Maryland courtesy of Kevin Atticks.

Don Tilmon, Tilmon's Island Winery
Winemaker Don Tilmon is a native of Missouri, raised on a cotton farm in the Southeast part of the State. From the start, he was committed to agriculture, and received degrees in Animal Science (U. Missouri), Production Management (U. Delaware), and Ag Marketing (Purdue University). From 1971 to 1978 Don was a professor of Business Administration at Lynchburg College in Lynchburg, Virginia. He chaired the department from 1973 through 1978. In 1978 he returned to the University of Delaware as Farm Management Specialist and Professor with the Delaware Cooperative Extension Service. He has served in that capacity for the past 29 years.

In the spring of 1999 Don moved to Sudlersville, Maryland and subsequently planted 15 Concord vines for “home made” wine. By 2003 small amounts of wine were being shared with neighbors who seemed to like it and hinted for more...and so the process of becoming a winery began.

By December 2005, Tilmon’s Island Winery was officially the first commercial winery in Queen Anne’s County, Maryland. Tilmon’s Island Winery purchases local vinifera grapes where possible in Caroline, Talbot and Queen Anne’s Counties. The winery is small, producing about 500 cases of wine annually in a basement garage of his home – and is open for tastings Sat 12 - 5 p.m.

Tim Lewis, Cove Point Winery
Cove Point Winery winemaker Tim Lewis a man of many talents. He is a successful computer systems engineer by day, and award-winning winemaker by night. While both careers are passions of Lewis, it's the winemaking that keeps him occupied during every non-9-to-5 hour.

Lewis began by making his own basic beers, then graduated to whole-grain brewing. At some point, Lewis recalls wanting to try something different, so he started making wine. He found it was more challenging than making beer – citing the thousands of options presented by choices in yeasts, enzymes and aging techniques. Plus, there are also many more things that can go wrong with wine – so many variables at every turn.

Cove Point Winery has a wide variety of wines. Lewis' personal favorites (both to make and to drink) are big, bold red wines. But, the market wants variety, and Cove Point Winery provides it – 24 wines at any given time. Lewis prides himself on making wines not found readily in the region, like Symphony, Blaufrankish and Vignoles.

Lewis' next big challenge is getting his new building built. "We're out of space," said Lewis, who has every inch of his basement occupied with tanks, supplies and bottles filled with wine on its way to market.

Paul Roberts, Deep Creek Cellars
It was as an apprentice at California's prestigious Chateau Montelena that Paul Roberts leaned how to make superb wine: start with quality grapes, and exercise imagination. Roberts sources fruit locally, regionally, and nationally, and also grows his own.

After 10 years of growing grapes in Deep Creek's Alpine climate, Roberts has learned that his Cabernet Franc are suited best to pink wines. He's particularly proud of his 2006 estate-grown Cabernet Franc rosé, due out in late spring. "You'll think it's from the Loire Valley."

The winery reflects Roberts' casual, rustic style, and the wines, nearly all dry, are bottled without filtration. From the quaint tasting room, to gravity-flow bottling and hand-labeling equipment, the focus is on nature and its resources. He is one of the nation's few winemakers to spell out his philosophy in a book — From This Hill, My Hand, Cynthiana's Wine (1999).

"Paul typifies what a growing industry needs; he's an innovator, and he's not afraid to take chances," says Dick Penna, grape grower and chair of the Maryland Wine and Grape Advisory Commission.

Retailer Mitchell Pressman, owner of Baltimore's top-rated Chesapeake Wines, says: "Paul is a brilliant winemaker who happens to have a small vineyard in western Maryland… The wine is delicious and unique."

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Virginia Wine License Plate

Virginia Wine Industry Working To Get License Plate
March 20, 2007 11:13 AM EDT
The Associated Press

"Virginia's wine industry is hoping to get the state's newest group to offer a specialty license plate. The plate's design will bear the phrase, "Virginia, first in wine", and feature a picture of wine grapes," The Associated Press reported via WTKR in Hampton Roads, Virgina.

Each plate will cost $25. The state currently has 180 other special interest license plates.

Other groups include, Harley Davidson, aviation enthusiasts, members of the military and environmental advocates.

If 1,000 of the specialty plates are sold, the Department of Motor Vehicles will donate $15 from each plate to Virginia Tech's enology research department. They must order 350 pre-paid applications for the plates by July 1st.